"Final Phase" for local media: Gordon Borrell affirms content as the lifeline

Borrell Associates’ 2025 annual conference relocates from Miami to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU.


During this exclusive E&P interview, Gordon Borrell, CEO of Borrell Associates, provided critical insights into the evolving landscape of local media. Highlighting a seismic shift in the industry, Borrell emphasized content as a key differentiator in what he terms the “final phase” for local media. 

A new venue for a new era
A significant announcement during the interview was the relocation of Borrell Associates' 2025 annual conference from Miami to the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University (ASU). This move signifies more than just a change of scenery; it reflects a deeper strategic pivot towards content-centric discussions. "We're going to Arizona State University. We've made a deal with the Cronkite School for Journalism and Mass Communication," Borrell stated. He elaborated on the thematic shift, "The focus is on the content. We’re going to spend a lot of time talking about content.”

Borrell explained that the conference, originally known as the Local Online Advertising Conference (LOAC), had evolved from focusing solely on advertising to encompassing a broader spectrum of media needs, including content creation and distribution. This shift mirrors the industry’s transformation over the past decade, as media companies now recognize the necessity of robust content strategies to sustain and grow their audiences.

The final phase: Content as a lifeline

Borrell's notion of local media's "final phase" is grounded in data spanning two decades. He observed a deceleration in digital growth, now tapering to single digits, and predicted that only a small fraction of media companies — approximately 20% — would emerge as net revenue growers. "We're in what we think is the final phase. And in the final phase, every three to five years, we see dead people…companies where, okay, you're going to be either growing again in revenue or you've probably already kind of flatlined," Borrell said.

This stark outlook is a warning and a call to action for media companies to innovate and invest in their content. The companies that thrive will leverage their unique content and first-party data to build strong, engaged audiences. "If you want to survive this final phase, you will need first-party data and an audience. You've got it. And that's important," Borrell emphasized.

Revised forecast: A sobering outlook for local advertising

Borrell Associates' new forecast for local media paints a less rosy picture than previous projections. Initially optimistic, the forecast has been revised downward to reflect a more tempered growth expectation in local advertising. "Back in November, we put out a forecast of 4.2 % percent growth, which is healthy for overall growth in local advertising. We’re bringing it down about a point and a half or so for 2024,” Borrell noted.

The revision stems from a discrepancy between business optimism and actual advertising spending. Despite businesses expressing confidence in economic conditions, advertising budgets have not increased proportionally. Broader economic uncertainties, including the upcoming election, may influence this cautious spending behavior. "We asked SMBs, 'Are you going to spend more, less or the same on advertising over the next six months?' It hasn't moved, still at the low level," Borrell observed.


The future: Content and distribution
As Borrell looks ahead, he reiterates the critical role of content in differentiating successful media companies from those that will falter. While distribution remains a powerful force ("If content is king, distribution is King Kong"), the essence of a media company's survival will hinge on its ability to produce compelling content. "We're assuming at this point that the survivors of this last phase already have that savvy and that knowledge. And if not, better hurry up with it," Borrell advised.

He likened the future of media to a choice between running a hobby shop or a thriving enterprise. Companies that fail to adapt and embrace the importance of content will find themselves marginalized, while those that innovate and leverage their content will dominate the market. “Do you want a hobby shop? Or do you wanna be a big company that grows and has a giant office again on Main Street?” Borrell challenged.

In summary, Gordon Borrell's insights provide a clarion call for local media companies. The industry's final phase demands a renewed focus on content and a strategic pivot toward leveraging first-party data and audience engagement. As the industry gathers at ASU's Cronkite School for the 2025 conference, the emphasis will be clear — content remains king in the battle for survival and growth.



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